Sea Shepherd claims victory for whales in Antarctic

Unbridled joy has overtaken crews on three Sea Shepherd vessels as they celebrate a Japanese surrender from whaling in the Antarctic this year — and possibly for all time.

“Everybody is overjoyed, laughing and crying and hugging,” said Izumi Stephens, who is serving aboard the Steve Irwin, one of the three vessels harassing the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

Izumi Stephens

I spoke to Izumi by satellite phone after the Japanese government announced an end to whaling a month early this year. (See story by Martin Fackler in the New York Times Global Edition.) Japanese analysts are now speculating that whaling in the Southern Ocean may never resume, because of the costs, challenges and changes in the market for whale meat.

“We think the entire thing could be finishing,” Izumi said of Antarctic whaling efforts. “This may be the last year in the Southern Ocean for everybody.”

Check out recent stories in the Japanese news organization Daily Yomiuri Online, one of which includes this statement:

“In addition to Sea Shepherd’s acts of sabotage, low domestic demand for whale meat — which used to be a valuable source of protein during the food-scarce postwar years — also has made the prospect of continuing whaling extremely gloomy, officials said.”

Izumi, if you recall, is a Japanese woman who lives on Bainbridge Island. After her husband died, she became committed to opposing the killing of dolphins and whales. She joined Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in November as a Japanese-language translator and has spent the past three months involved in the high-seas campaign against the Japanese whalers. See Water Ways for Jan. 14 and Nov. 1.

The so-called surrender has become big news in Japan, and Izumi has taken calls from Japanese reporters and conversed in her native language:

“I’ve told them that this is a big, big victory, a big victory for the whales. We are not against the Japanese people or the Japanese government. We are against the whalers…. We are not terrorists; we are just intervening against the commercial whalers.”

Through the Internet, Izumi has been keeping up with numerous Japanese news reports and blogs, where she has found herself under personal attack.

“People in Japan are mad at me. They call me a traitor to my country.”

Izumi is the first Japanese translator for Sea Shepherd to make her identity known to the public. During taping for the television show “Whale Wars,” she has not covered her face or kept her name secret, as previous Japanese translators have done. The revalation of a possible end to whaling in the Antarctic has raised her profile more than she anticipated.

“I never expected that it would be like this final end,” she told me.

She had imagined that the whaling season would end, as usual, in March and she would return home to her family. Then she would have all summer to decide if she should do it again. Instead, the “Japanese surrender” a month early — with uncertain prospects for the future — has created a media blitz and new level of anger in Japan.

“I can see in the newspapers that people are really mad,” she said. “My face is coming up on Japanese TV.”

The Japanese whaling organization, known as the Institute of Cetacean Research, consistently calls Sea Shepherd an eco-terrorist organization. The group regularly complains that Sea Shepherd’s flagship countries, Australia and the Netherlands, fail to take action for acts of “terrorism and harassment,” including bombardment with glass projectiles, smoke bombs and “incendiary devices.” The latest reports talked about the use of lasers aimed at the whaling ships. See ICR new releases.

According to the report in Daily Yomiuri Online, the processing ship Nisshin Maru was unable to shake off the faster Sea Shepherd vessels Bob Barker and Gojira.

Capt. Paul Watson, who directs Sea Shepherd, said the ability of his ships to stay with the whaling fleet made all the difference in this year’s success in minimizing the number of whales killed. Scroll down to the bottom of this entry to view the on-board video that Watson issued Saturday.

The Daily Yomiuri story quoted anonymously a high-ranking ministry official, who outlined four options for continued whaling:

  • Have the whaling fleet escorted by Japan Coast Guard vessels or others, an idea discussed in 2007 but scrapped for lack of escort ships.
  • Build new whaling vessels capable of traveling at high speed, an idea considered “almost impossible” because of costs.
  • Replace research whaling with commercial whaling, an idea that lacks support from other countries.
  • Continue current whaling arrangements, which has proven to be costly and difficult given the interference of Sea Shepherd.

Izumi said none of the options seems likely, but one never knows.

Another issue faced by the Japanese, she told me, is the success of the television show “Whale Wars,” which has brought notoriety and donations to the anti-whaling cause. The Japanese government may be concerned that Sea Shepherd will use its new-found clout to bring more attention to the decline of blue fin tuna (See Operation Blue Rage) and to the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, and other places around the world.

For now, Izumi is eager to get home to Bainbridge Island.

“I am really homesick,” she told me. “I want to squeeze my kids and pet my dogs and maybe take a nice hot shower. Yes, a long shower.”

Said Watson in a news release:

“I have a crew of 88 very happy people from 23 different nations including Japan and they are absolutely thrilled that the whalers are heading home and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is now indeed a real sanctuary.”

The Steve Irwin is scheduled to meet up with the Bob Barker and return to Hobart, Australia. Izumi hopes to fly back home to the Puget Sound region on March 10.

4 thoughts on “Sea Shepherd claims victory for whales in Antarctic

  1. Endangered Whales: “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

    Although I am thankful for the end of the Japanese 2011 whaling season by Watson and his merry men (and women!), it is with prudence.

    Even if it was accomplished with great effort by the Sea Shepherd, what we often miss is what lies beneath the retreat from the Japanese hunting whales. In my own opinion and observation, the Japanese whale hunting retreat just seemed “too easy”. Obviously the Japanese did not want a full-scale international situation. But the whale retreat may signal other plans. Such as getting agreements in with the U.S. to allow the hunting of gray whales. Keep in mind that the US Marine & Wildlife will not approve the gray whales to be placed on the endangered species list, even with suggestions by creditable research institutions.

    Recent comments found in various press reports in different newspapers around the world, suggest that gray whale populations are “on the increase” and also being that the case, “gray whale populations may not be sustained in the ocean due to their recent growth”.

    Hmmm, let me see… Over one hundred years ago, gray whale populations were in the hundreds of thousands – and that is a guess. Now, numbering less than 20,000 (not a true count – probably much lower) the same creatures may be “too much” for our oceans?

    Enter the Japanese. There are already plans afoot to move their hunt to the north of their country and in their own “international waters”, where they will hunt minke whales, humpbacks and a couple of other species. And with the sanction/blessing of the U.S. government that grays have “saturated” the ocean, I am concerned by recent press that this is but a “set-up” to hunt more gray whales!

    In 1996 Japan was recorded with 1600 tons of frozen whale meat. Now, in 2011, 6,000 tons of frozen whale meat sit in Japanese frozen food lockers!

    Japanese officials are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to get this whale meat distributed into their masses, when in fact less that 1 1/2% of the culture eat whale meat! Officials have tried making flavored hamburgers and hot dogs, pushing whale meat into parochial school lunches or including whale meat as part of a “traditional, cultural experience”.

    And I thought only Californians “experienced things”!….

    I can only wonder what is next. I really believe whaling is far from “over”.

    And although it is a good time to celebrate, a battle has been won, but not the war.

    I think I will side with one of the kookiest comments made by a baseball great Yogi Berra, when he said:

    “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

    Truthfully, endangered whales will stay endangered until governments decide to take action against those countries continuing to hunt whales.

  2. “Truthfully, endangered whales will stay endangered until governments decide to take action against those countries continuing to hunt whales.”

    I disagree. Governments have tried to take action, through the failures of the International Whaling Commission, a worthless organization (with government representatives) set up to do both conservation and management of whales. The June 2010 meeting of the IWC shut out NGOs, was closed, and failed to come to an agreement about the Southern Sanctuary.

    The real end to the killing of any animal, whether threatened, endangered, rare or otherwise, is to stop the demand. This discussion hints that Japan may be having an issue with the demand. There is a new and very educated generation that may be more interested in humane and non-toxic sources of meat.

    Let’s focus on ending the demand for killing and eating these animals. We have already been down the road of sanctions and government intervention, and no- does not work, takes too long, and waste of our tax dollar. Education is where it is at.

    Finally, the folks who get paid to kill the animals must be provided with another source of income, or they have no incentive to stop. Programs should be set up to re-train these workers with viable, long-term employment.

    Eating non-essential animal meat is no more than an act of selfishness and shows the true vanity of humans. Monitor the meat intake in your diet, and only purchase from humanely raised and farmed sources. Learn more about humane sources in Washington here -

    http://humanewa.com/about

  3. I feel that economics is the main issue here – when it is no longer profitable to kill these creatures or there is a better way for these fisherman to make money, the slaughter will stop.
    It is important that we all do what we can to educate all people to the danger of losing the creatures living in our seas and the effect it will be on all our lives. I hope you are a reader and will take a look at and “like” R.A.R.Clouston on fb – he is a great author- and just happens to be my husband! His latest book is on Whales, Dolphins and the Oceans- it is a great fantasy with a message. We work closely with several ocean conservation groups and I hope to get the word out to as many people who like to read and love the seas as I can. We are giving all our profits for the next 2000 books to Whale and Dolphin conservation – Please take a look and support our efforts! http://www.rarclouston.com
    http://whaleanddolphintalk.blogspot.com

  4. Groovyjoker,

    Your point is well-taken with regard to ending the demand. My coined phrase is to consider whales not as “fish” or “food”, but as FRIENDS!

    Man has only tapped into understanding of whales, really, in the last 50 years. Add to the fact that we are quite “species centric” even within our own kind, makes it difficult for any other creature to survive – even our own environment!

    Man has lost the balance of life. In the big city, life is lots of money, fast cars, several homes and the ability to live surrounded by manufactured ideas of what Madison Avenue tells us what to wear and how we cannot let ourselves grow old. There is a drug for everything.

    Since the 20′s there has been a change in the way man thinks.
    And what has changed is the idea of need for profit.

    But life did not start out that way. There was a balance and it was achieved in the beginning without all of the above.

    The biggest problem has and always will be man.

    Governments in their original dreams and goals, are wonderful things. And now trying to get things done, well, they don’t get done. So I do agree with your point, but I also believe that people can change governments and although it is an individual that can make discoveries, it is organizations, such as government that can implement those changes on a large scale.

    I guess I can say that I have not lost hope for the system. I believe it can work. But sometimes, little groups of determined men and women (for example Sea Shepherd), address the need for change faster than any government can truthfully respond. And even in those small groups, there is organization – a group of organized people aligned to a common purpose.

    It’s all about “thinking outside the bubble”.

    Your suggestion for how one eats is also valid, and yes education is vital. But again, education will come from (unfortunately) agreements on the state and national level. It is how it works. And it will come from people who are smart enough to outwit the lobbyist and special interest group. Not an easy task, but a task that must be done.

    So I accept the disagreement you have voiced, but recognize for better or worse there will always be organizations/governments that will have to exist that administer the laws of the land. As with any private industry or enterprise, you must have an administrative level and one with checks and balances.

    There is no easy answer. But I am hopeful that people who care actually operate at their level, whatever it is, responsibly. Right now, it’s pretty far from that ideal. But one has to believe and work toward that goal.

    If not, it will be a very short future for us all.

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